Maryland is now one of the states that is working towards the legalization of cannabis. House Bill 556 is the latest attempt to regulate the cannabis industry, from the farm to rolling paper. The bill is seen as a national model that provides equity and inclusion in the cannabis industry. The bill has received high praise from advocates who are concerned about the safety and welfare of young people, who are often targeted by the criminal justice system due to cannabis use.
Introduction of House Bill 556
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), the lead sponsor of the bill, introduced it to the Economic Matters Committee, which he chairs. Wilson stated that his goal is not to create a cash cow for the state or simply a marketplace for intoxicants, but to make sure that young people are not being arrested or dying due to the substance. Wilson’s goal is to regulate the industry to ensure safe usage and to eliminate the black market. He believes that the state needs to be competitive with the illicit market to undercut it.
Features of the Bill
House Bill 556 provides for the creation of a new regulation and enforcement division within the current state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, which would be renamed the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Cannabis Commission. All dispensaries would sell both medical and recreational cannabis, and medical marijuana licenses would be converted under the new licensing structure.
The bill provides for the state to tax the sale of cannabis at a rate of 6 percent initially, the same as Maryland’s sales tax, up to 10 percent in 2028. The sales would be taxed at the consumer level only. The bill also establishes a new Office of Social Equity in the cannabis division to promote participation by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. The effort includes creating both a Community Reinvestment and Repair Fund to allocate money to the traditionally affected communities and a Cannabis Business Assistance Fund to increase minority participation in the program.
Minority Participation in the Cannabis Industry
The social equity element of the bill is being praised by many witnesses. It’s a step towards creating a more inclusive cannabis industry, and it is something that had been missing from the legislation that legalized medical marijuana a few years back. The cannabis bill is designed to promote participation by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs. The former Legislative Black Caucus chair, Del. Darryl Barnes, questioned Wilson closely on the matter of minority participation. He expressed his concern about the concentration of licenses that would be issued in the social equity areas.
Wilson answered that they define social equity by zip code, and if you lived in a zip code that had a 175 percent arrest rate for cannabis use, they would consider it a social equity area. Wilson also assured them that they would address the issue of concentration of licenses in social equity areas. They plan on ensuring that dispensaries are not all in their communities, and there will be more specificity to determine how far apart they are from each other and how close together they can be. This will ensure that dispensaries are not all focused on the same area.
As the conversation around legalizing cannabis in Maryland continues, it’s important to remember the purpose behind the efforts. While there are challenges and concerns that need to be addressed, such as ensuring social equity and preventing the concentration of licenses in certain areas, the ultimate goal is to create a safe and regulated industry that benefits everyone.
The passage of House Bill 556 would be a significant step towards achieving this goal, and it’s important to continue the dialogue and work towards a solution that benefits all Marylanders. With careful consideration and planning, Maryland has the potential to create a cannabis industry that serves as a national model for social equity and inclusion.